In its fourth year and already knocking socks off some of its rival fringe shows and lineups, Retreat is indeed a treat to the eyes and ears after many nights of disappointing theatre, mediocre comedy and numerous ‘free’ displays of entertainment so far this month.
No, it’s not all bad, but there’s not many places you’d find about 15 bands over 2 days for a mere twelve earth pounds. Even more staggering when you hear that the headliners were Broken Records and Meursault. Even further surprise in finding out the other bands included a visit from Pictish Trail (who has gone one better on the Fence tradition of solo musicians pretending to be bands by appearing as ‘Burger, No Burger’ – amazing name choice!)
So Sunday afternoon, there’s a bunch of randoms, all ages, nestled around on the less than comfy wooden church hall floor, surrounded by their BYOB privileges, waiting on our host and first band of the day Eagleowl to come on. The infamous Bart turned out to be one of the heroes of the weekend, not only helping run the show, but also featuring in about 4 different bands and helping out jester/compere Owen in his attempts to make us giggle with shoddy indie versions of TV shows like Catchphrase. (Main host Owen similarly showed up on rums umpteen times during the festival, we can only assume there was some sort of percussionists’ conference that had drawn all the skin-pounders away from the city).
Skeleton Bob brought some tender Americana to gently warm us up for the day, melodic and fairly slow-paced at first and generally still a bit miffed that they could have potentially been upstaged by eagleowl’s unexpected guest member, a cutesy 2 year old with a rogue microphone – awwwwwww! However, midway through the set, the tempo and mood became a little more upbeat, despite their calls to “drink ourselves to death” and lovelorn tales in the style of the Lemonheads. It could have been a downer, but with their timid nature and carefully woven harmonies it had just enough of a touch of Neil Young to keep the crowd smiling.
Highlight of my day was a chance to see The Scottish Enlightenment perform tracks from their magnificent St Thomas album within the confines of a church hall, probably not too dissimilar to that which may have inspired the album in the first place. Starting with ‘Earth Angel/With Sticks in Crypt’ their chiming guitar sound echoes perfectly around the hall; their slow, steady emotional trip down a road strewn with a faith lost and found, perfectly suited to a retreat such as this.
Building emotions enhanced by resonating tones and rhythms, there is an honest poignancy in ‘The First Will Be Last’ that is rare even in all my many days of Sunday school attendance and beyond. Despite their saintly hero, there is no doubt whatsoever that by the time Moyes closes with the lines “Peace on the earth, goodwill to all men” from the Pascal EP, the band have once again proved they are something very special indeed. The next album is greatly anticipated.
Two Wings: now I have to admit I had to consult my (rather wonderful, may I add) Retreat! brochure in order to help me with this bit. Apparently a “lovely ensemble with one ear on the folk-rock experimentalism of the late 60s and one eye on future sonic possibilities.” Quite! A little bit country, a big bit quirky, wonderful enthusiastic drumming, great fashion sense and only a teeny bit of Kate Bush noises.
The eagerly awaited Pineapple Chunks displayed an amazing carefree attitude to between song banter, although they did try very hard, even googling top tips before coming onstage. Their cheery pop-punk attitude and brash guitars and vocals seemed apt for this time of the afternoon.
Time for Jesus H Foxx, and they seem to have multiplied since I saw them last. All good though, they cram a lot of styles, melodies and expert use of percussion together into quite a tasty delight of noise. Cheery yet in a very understated way, they remind me of happy times listening to Super Furry Animals followed by some rather more sombre listens to Lou Reed. ‘Trying To Be Good’ shines out today as a good example of their ability to combine the simple and complex, the light and the serious, and just loveliness.
Enter The Leg. Now, I’m no stranger to Dan Mutch of Edinburgh music scene. He has been around a long time in various guises and in particular Khaya had a cosy place in my heart for many years. But times have changed and I’m afraid the spirit of the fringe festival may have got to him, literally. Heavy, dark and bizarre, it was just all too much for me and I had to go have a lie down near the pulpit. I was most certainly in the minority however; the Retreat! crowd love a good old panda bear makeup wearing monkey noises rock opera cello as much as the next man, so I’m most certainly not going to argue.
Ahhh, sweet relief, a nice man singing love songs. Meursault. Only it’s a trick, they’re not love songs and he’s not nice. He’s here to wreck you, to mess with your head and walk amongst the crowd singing full volume in your face songs of such intricate beauty and fragility that you will most certainly cry. The voice alone could rattle cages 3 miles away but together with full band (including Rob St John on accordian) they make a mighty fine racket. Stark honest lyrics sung with great passion, by the time ‘William Henry Miller’ makes an appearance you could literally hear a pin drop, so captivated were the audience. Explaining that he’d written ‘Settling’ after the success of last years Retreat!, Neil Pennycook appropriately sums up the “gooey positive feelings” everyone has towards this wonderful celebration of local DIY music. Take a bow from between those shimmery golden curtains organisers, you are much loved.
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.
in case you missed day 1…